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‘We Are Reloading’: Oath Keepers Leaders Vowed More Action After U.S. Capitol Secured on Jan. 6th, Evidence Shows

Stewart Rhodes

Stewart Rhodes outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Photo released by DOJ, via Ford Fischer / News2Share)

After Donald Trump told his supporters to go back home on Jan. 6th, the Oath Keepers apparently did not slink away in defeat and wrap up their alleged seditious conspiracy to reinstall the former president in the White House for a second term. Instead, the extremist group’s Florida chapter leader signaled a defiant plan in a private chat that evening.

“We aren’t quitting !!” Kelly Meggs wrote in a Signal chat room for Oath Keepers leaders, using idiosyncratic spacing and punctuation and using the pseudonym “OK Gator 1.” “We are reloading !!”

The messages were authenticated by FBI agent Kelsey Harris, who agreed during cross-examination on Tuesday that the “reloading” remark was not to be understood literally. Other messages in the trove, however, indicated that the Oath Keepers’ reconnaissance resumed the day after the attack. Mostly shared on the encrypted app Signal, the messages highlight a point made by a federal agent during the trial.

“The armed rebellion wasn’t over,” FBI agent Sylvia Hilgeman testified on Oct. 17.

A flood of encrypted messages and social media posts among Oath Keepers leaders and entered into evidence reveals more of what Hilgeman described weeks ago. Multiple members of the five-defendant case appeared triumphant in the chats.

“We stormed the Capitol, personally,” wrote Jessica Watkins, a member from Ohio, in a Parler post that evening. “Got tear gassed and everything. We won’t back down in fear. We are. AMERICANS!!”

Thomas Caldwell, an older member from Virginia, boasted about him and his wife’s breach of the Capitol in derisive messages about police.

“Sharon and I stormed the capitol and I am PROUD we did,” Caldwell wrote at 9:58 p.m. that evening. “Pigs fired on a peaceful crowd.”

As the Oath Keepers cater to current and former law enforcement and military members, their defense attorneys have claimed that they are pro-police and sought to maintain the peace after breaching the Capitol. The string of messages appear to repeatedly undermine those assertions.

“We were in the thick of it,” Watkins wrote. “Stormed the Capitol. Forced our way into the Senate and House. Got tear gassed and muscled the cops back like Spartans.”

One message from Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, time-stamped after 9 p.m. on Jan. 6, suggested that storming the Capitol was a preliminary measure.

“Declaration of illegitimacy is step 1,” Rhodes wrote.

The messages do show expressions of disappointment, particularly at then-Vice President Mike Pence and at Trump, whom evidence showed the Oath Keepers hoped would effectively call private paramilitary groups to maintain his power.

“TRUMP is a Traitor. !!!” Meggs wrote in the “DC OP” Signal chat. “He had the option and didn’t use it !”

For the Oath Keepers, prosecutors say, that “option” was invoking the Insurrection Act and deploy the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups to maintain his power. Evidence showed that the Oath Keepers had a so-called quick reaction force (QRF) standing by in Alexandria, Va., where they were allegedly waiting with a stash of firearms at Trump’s command. The call never came, and they did not deploy.

When informed that Congress would reconvene to complete the certification following the siege, a member of the QRF, Ed Vallejo, bristled.

“We’ll [sic], they have to declare buttboy pres in the dead of night with no one there, right?” Vallejo wrote.

But Rhodes, chest-beating about the “ticked off patriots” who had stormed the Capitol, remained defiant: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

After a post-breach gathering at an Olive Garden in Leesburg, Va., where the group spent $408.82 on the Oath Keepers credit card, the group’s internal communications suggested that this was hardly bluster.

On the early morning of Jan. 7th around 5 a.m., Vallejo wrote to the group that he was going to check out the scene at the Capitol.

“Yeah, I got shit needs doin’ but none more important than this,” the message shows him saying.

“Departing for Recon now,” Vallejo adding, telling Rhodes to call him when he was up.

“We are at WAR,” he added, later.

At 7:33 a.m. on Jan. 7, Vallejo sent the Oath Keepers a “STATUS REPORT” stating that National Guard had cordoned off the Capitol. Another Oath Keepers member, Joshua James a.k.a. “Hydro AL,” then informed the group that Trump conceded.

“It’s over,” James wrote. “We lose.”

An apparently incensed Vallejo responded: “Like HELL [it’]s ‘over.'”

The government’s case continued in the afternoon with a Facebook custodian of records verifying other direct messages. Prosecutors said they intend to call one more civilian witness before resting their case.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."